Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Zizek on Trotsky posted by Richard SeymourI have criticised Zizek's weaknesses on this blog more than once, but you have to give some credit to him for taking on Trotsky - not only for taking him on, but for taking on the most difficult work, the one that few Trotskyists defend, Terrorism and Communism. Part of my problem with Z's line on Trotsky in the past has been his (frankly pathetic) comparison of Trotsky's founding of the Red Army with his own decision to side with Slovenian secession (which I think he still defends) in terms of a willingness to get one's hands dirty and a refusal of Beautiful Soul politics. Ironically, Zizek's position on Yugoslavia looks more like Lukacs' 1935 'heroic' rapprochement with the politics of 'realism' (the position he criticises) than Trotsky's position (the one he endorses).
However, the latest of the 'Zizek Presents...' series is actually a decent read (partly because he has read Lars Lih's excellent contribution to the recent History and Revolution, itself an excellent volume, engaging with revisionist accounts of the English, French and Russian Revolutions). Lih's recent book on Lenin is coming out in paperback soon, and his penchant for meticulously busting anticommunist myth is evident in his contribution on the Bolsheviks' so-called utopianism and delirium. Zizek defends Trotsky's book on two key fronts: first, for its critique of the shortcomings of liberal democracy, especially in a revolutionary situation (contra Kautksy); second for its commixture of absolute realism about the horrible situation with its recognition of the need for a certain kind of utopianism, a willingness to seize advantages from the direst of circumstances. He doesn't really deal very well with the objections usually raised to the book (it mandates continued terror, it ), but he does effectively rebut some of the unfair criticisms of the Russian Revolution. Some of it is recycled from 'Revolution at the Gates', itself a nice introduction to Lenin's 1917 writings (in which he anticipated punk's apotheosis by exactly sixty years), and as usual with Zizek there are plenty of diversions, rhetorical ploys, set-pieces, extended quotations, gags etc.
It's important to introduce readers to a text like Terrorism and Communism with at least a sense of the immense difficulties of the Russian Revolution and of Trotsky's relationship with it - you really have to escape the powerful anticommunist blinkers, the auto-responses that make it difficult to properly read, and Zizek's introduction succeeds at that. This is no small matter. And, though Zizek is basically very Eurocentric and liberal (so I think), his willingness to engage productively with revolutionary ideology distinguishes him from the commonplace marxisant left-liberal theorist.